They hit up a record stop that they originally passed on the way to the beach; it was more Avi’s suggestion than Mitch’s request, since Mitch worried about being a bore while he dug through crates. However, a large banner in the window advertised a Black Friday sale, and Avi insisted that Mitch do something to treat himself after everything that transpired. So Mitch indulged.
He apologized multiple times, repeating some variation of “this probably isn’t what you wanted to drive two hours to do”, but Avi brushed him off.
“We saw the sunset. That’s all I wanted,” he countered.
“Which I ruined,” Mitch countered back.
“You did not.” The little scoff from Avi came as a major relief, because Mitch knew that he finally annoyed him back into being normal. It was good, it was playful, it was carefree. It was everything that Mitch missed back when he was busy keeping his distance. He could now handle the bright smiles flashed at him from across the room, or when pressed about his interests (music, in this case), then allowed to freely rattle on (and with encouragement, no less). The butterflies and lightheadedness still accompanied these little gestures, but they didn’t consume him to the point of madness.
Nothing was ideal about this, but he tried the alternative, and in the end it wasn’t worth it. Even if the smothering and tenderness occasionally drove Mitch nuts, or even if Avi’s thoughts apparently leaned towards prudishness, Mitch wanted him around regardless. There were few people that he trusted enough to pilot a road trip that resulted in a breakdown, and Avi had offered his services twice on that front. And roughed up his shitty ex.
As far as Mitch was concerned, that was someone worth holding onto, no matter the relation.
When Avi was off poking around the wall of guitar supplies, Mitch came across a Paramore 7″ that had been released during a previous Record Store Day. He wasn’t familiar with the song and the price tag was far more than he was comfortable paying for a single, but it was pressed into a weird shape, making it more of a collector’s item than something to listen to. Apprehension of giving something unsolicited chewed at Mitch, but Avi enjoyed the last surprise single, so perhaps this would also be appreciated.
He returned a few vinyls he was one the fence about, then shoved the Paramore single below his remaining curated stack to keep it out of sight . While Avi stayed distracted by a pack of Ernie Ball strings, Mitch hurried to check out and requested that the clerk peel off the price tag.
After they returned to the car but before pulling out of the parking lot, Mitch fidgeted with the paper bag that held his purchases. Part of him wanted to wait until they were home before presenting it, or perhaps wait until Christmas, but so much had happened within the last few days that he felt obligated to give something which expressed equal measures of both gratitude and remorse. So he told Avi to hold on, then with a deep breath, he handed over the vinyl.
To say that Avi was surprised would be an understatement. He flipped the record over and over, going on about how unnecessary it was for Mitch to do this, that they were friends, why wouldn’t he be there for him? “Would you just accept the gift?” Mitch laughed while simultaneously rubbing the side of his face to conceal how it burned.
“I feel like I don’t deserve it. I don’t collect these like you do.”
“You don’t have to listen to it. You like the band, right? You said that you’ve used their song as your theme?” Oh, that horrible guilt still lingered, but Mitch couldn’t be honest about that one. Not yet, maybe not ever. Avi nodded. “Great, then get a frame for it and hang it on your wall. Problem solved.”
“Is that OK to do?”
“Of course it is. Some people don’t even open up their records, they buy them brand new and keep them on a shelf. It’s fine, no one judges. I mean, I judge a little, but-“
“Are you gonna judge me?” gasped Avi, looking genuinely upset at the notion.
“No. Oh my god.” Mitch massaged his temples. “Is this too much of a burden for you? Do you want me to return it?”
Avi pulled the record to his chest and shook his head. “Don’t. I love it.”
“OK then!” Mitch threw his head back, refusing to allow the word ‘love’ cause further damage; he’d already been fucked up beyond repair from the first time the word came from Avi’s mouth. “I’m glad we established this.”
He tried to ignore the fond side glance that Avi gave from over in the driver’s seat, and how it caused his heart to hammer so intensely that his ribs were at risk of fracturing. But he couldn’t keep his eyes off of the way that Avi’s fingers grazed the vinyl’s cover, and the longing to be caressed in that manner, to be possessed and protected-
Stay the course. Stay the course. Stay the course.